Religious freedom and children’s rights

The seizure of 460 children from the LDS fundamentalist compound in Texas(New York Times: Deal to Return Children to Sect Breaks Down) was done because officials feared children were being abused, in part by the sect’s custom of marrying very young girls off to older men. From what I have read, this indeed was the practice in that community, and if true, is a sad and appalling misuse of adult’s power over children. No woman, young or old, should have to marry against her will. And in the vast majority of cases, I believe that a 12 or 14 year old is simply not mature enough to be married.

But that does not mean that every child, girl or boy, infant or teen, in that community was at risk. And it certainly does not give the government the right to remove every child from every family before specific investigation on each family has even been done. Can you imagine a scenario in which all the children were removed from Catholic families in a community if it was discovered that several predatory priests were putting children in the parish at risk? Or a decision to put all homeschooled children in the nation in public school because a few homeschooled children were illiterate? No way. That would be so vastly unfair to families that it is ridiculous to even consider.

It seems obvious to anyone with good sense that when questions arise about the safety of children, families deserve to be considered on an individual basis. This common sense practice was seemingly forgotten when the 460 FLDS children were seized from their families. If decisions like this become commonplace, all of our freedoms could be at risk.

I want all children to have the right to grow up safe and unharmed, and I am not sure if enough is right in the FLDS community to allow that to happen. But I do not believe that the government has enough evidence to prove that every child in that community is at risk. I have watched the updates on this story with an increasing ache in my heart for all the little children who are now in the care of strangers in foster homes in the overtaxed Texas foster care system.

Anyone who’s done any reading on attachment theory has read of the crucial importance of a primary caregiver in a child’s life. Separating little ones from their mothers has been proven to cause long-term damage to little children’s psyches. Adoptive parents all over the world are working to heal the wounds caused in their adopted children’s hearts by the loss of their first parents. Attachment is crucial to happiness and a sense of well-being as an adult. Even a two week hospitalization can leave a child with permanent scars to his psyche. (see Becoming Attached by Robert Karen)

I believe that these FLDS children have been harmed and have had their rights violated by being forcibly separated from their mothers. Harm is compounded with every day these children spend in foster care, away from their mothers. Paperwork piles up and lawyers get rich and hearings drag on, and still these children wait.

It could be that some of these children would be better off in other families in the long run. I certainly don’t agree with the beliefs of the FLDS. I’ve read enough about the community to know that not all is right in the FLDS community. Some of the mothers may be too brainwashed to make good choices about their children’s well-being. Certainly men who prey on children in that community should be arrested and locked up forever. And I hope that all women will be given the option to leave that community with their children and should be assisted to begin life elsewhere.

But I firmly believe that those families, whatever their beliefs, deserve the right to be treated as individuals, instead of a herd of cattle. As investigation drags on and lawyers spout rhetoric, and decisions are debated, for God’s sake, put these children back with their mothers.